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Pack power wins the day for Bradford & Bingley
Penrith 5, Bradford & Bingley 34
For almost the first time this SSE National League Three North season, Bradford & Bingley's director of rugby Henry Paul was able to select a side, rather than have his starting 15 dictated by the physio's midweek report.
With prop Jason Moss restored to the front row, the Bees pack were able to find a relentless grinding forward gear, anchored on Moss and fellow front-rowers Matt Cochrane and Ryan Wederell.
The Penrith pack had a torrid time all afternoon, especially at scrums, where the feed of the ball was a signal for the visiting forwards to engage the overpowering drive which had the home eight struggling to find any purchase in the heavy turf and the Bees taking yards of possession from each engagement.
It was not just up front where the Bees had an upper hand, with the engine room of Brett Mitchell and Harry Jeffrey relentless shunting forward and an abrasive loose-forward combination of Chris Fisher, Adam Malthouse and Dan Cookson getting the ball over the gain line far more frequently and also stopping any threat from Penrith at source.
Cookson, in particular, had been singled out for praise from his coach recently as his aggressive entry into any collision usually guarantees that his side will gain momentum and, just as importantly, possession will be retained.
Cookson was rewarded with two scores in the game on 34 and 49 minutes, with the Bees barging over for five tries on the afternoon.
Four of the five scores came from the pack, skipper Brett Mitchell opening the account in the fifth minute, relieving any early nerves the Bees may have felt.
With Malthouse dotting down on 46 minutes, the pack can all return to Wagon Lane knowing they put together possibly their best shift of the season so far.
The other score almost inevitably came from Richard Tafa, returning after suspension, who bumped and barged his way over in the 18th minute.
Like Cookson, Tafa’s running style will win few points for artistic merit, but what does count is the amount of go-forward he gives his side in the later phases of possession, after the pack had set up the initial field position.
With the pack so dominant, and given the heavy pitch, it is to be expected that the Bees backline were rather limited in their opportunities to shine with the ball in hand, but with Richard Scull having another fine game at scrum half, kicking three conversions and a penalty in the process, and Paul marshalling the game effectively at his side, Penrith really had no answer to the Bees game-plan, and on this showing must be seriously worried about the drop to a lower division at the season end.
The Bees are not out of the woods themselves and with ten games to play will surely have to target at least five wins to guarantee safety.
If there are five packs which the Wagon Lane men can pound into submission as effectively as they did Penrith, then the forward-based game plan may be one route to salvation.
However, with nearly a full squad to select from, Paul may at last be able to field a side which gives him other options and which may allow the Bees to win some of those final ten games of the season in some of the style that Paul aspired to when he took over the reins.
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